FO Friday: Pumpkin Hat

Oct 17

hat Typically, knitting for babies is not my thing. Sure, there are zillions of cute patterns, and babies are pretty small, and the knitting goes quickly. But I am a slow knitter, and babies grow fast. Rarely does it work out for me that I finish a baby project while it will still fit the baby.

I recently became a great aunt, though, and when I learned I’d be meeting the new baby, I figured I could manage a hat. And since it is autumn, a pumpkin hat seemed in order. No picture to prove it, but the hat and the baby looked pretty cute together.

There may be more baby knitting in my future.

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Ethical Elegance: Meet Moop’s Maker

Oct 16

Last week I reviewed my favorite Moop bags, and this week, I bring you an inside look at Moop. What a thrill when Wendy, the creative, ethical woman behind Moop agreed to an interview! The Moop studio is in Pittsburgh, where every elegant bag is designed and hand crafted out of gorgeous, durable, ethical materials. All images provided by Moop.

MoopCan you describe a typical day? What routines frame your days, even if the day’s work and play varies?
Clyde, our studio kitty, moved to my house when we made our studio move, and he relentlessly chases our house kitty, Mouse. So, I’m usually being roused by them around 4:30 each morning to tell them to knock it off!! and crash back to sleep until my alarm goes off at 5:30. I don’t consider myself a morning person..sometimes it is truly painful to get up at that hour, but that is when my day must begin at this stage of life. My daughter and I run around getting ready for the day, packing lunches, fixing breakfast, feeding the kitties, letting the chickens out for the day, turning off every light in the house (seriously, how does every single light get turned on each morning?!) and heading on our respective ways. I have a long commute right now, so I listen to a lot of audio books on my drive to the studio each morning. It’s a good time to try and calm my thoughts before the rush of the day begins.

My work days at Moop are fairly predictable and usually pretty busy. They center around production, shipping, email, marketing, customer service, etc. I have to be very efficient with my time. Being a working parent means your kids schedules are often controlling your schedule. So, once I arrive at the studio, I’m not usually making lunch dates or taking walks in the park. I’m working until I have to head out for the day and more often than not am eating my lunch while answering emails. That said, I love the days when I get to schedule photo shoots and work on new designs. Open studio time is something I have to work hard to get. It’s an important part of the creative process, but as Moop has grown, that time for me has diminished. The balance between daily production, administrative work, and creative inquiry is something I’ve been trying to restore and getting closer to getting back.

This post provides a terrific glimpse at the values that frame your work. Can you talk about how your values grew or deepened as your business grew?
Moop began as an extension of my studio practice as an artist. I had finished grad school (an MFA in photography) and wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to make a living with the degrees I had earned. It took me a while to find the value in the expensive education I had received as an MFA will not exactly help you get a job. But what I didn’t realize in those moments was how much an MFA was going to create my job…rather, how I would create my career because I had gone through the rigors of an art education. You learn a lot of things that don’t feel very quantifiable – I still believe I received the most varied education because of the route I chose. Learning to make things paired with a desire to have a career in an era where the internet exists is really a pretty remarkable place to be. Building a life around a process of making was something I had always wanted. It is now what I have earned by doing the work that I do. It has not been a piece of cake. It has been years and years of long long hours, lots of trial and error, and pounds of perseverance.

Achieving that goal has made me even more committed to the value of a life built around making things. It does not have to be physical, tangible objects – but, approaching what you do with the purpose of making something fantastic will apply to how you operate in your career and your personal life. Making personal connections is the core of making things. And, personal connections are what move us through life in happy, healthy, productive ways.

Why make bags?
I didn’t really begin with a business plan to find the thing that had the highest retail demand…I had made a few bags for myself and began making them for other people. It turned out I was pretty good at it, so I kept making more. There’s not a very scientific reason behind it. I have always carried tote style bags because they are so versatile: they hold up to my sloppy lifestyle, I can drag them around, over fill them and replace them when they’re all worn out…I usually carry one bag until it dies, then replace it with another. I don’t really accessorize with jewelry; instead my bag was always my accessory. Turns out there are a lot of people like me who want a minimalist functional style that’s not covered in branding. That’s the niche where Moop bags fit.

Will you talk about your design process? One of the things I love about Moop bags is that they transcend Market bagtrendiness—the essence of elegance! How do you achieve that? What matters to you as you design? How do you match designs to fabrics?
My process is pretty organic. My first Moop design was The Market Bag. The second was a small messenger bag. Every subsequent bag has come from a variation of those two originals. I had the foundation of shape and build techniques and started working over the details. For me, I try to design our bags so everything has a function (for instance, you’ll not see decorative buckles or useless chains). If there is a top flap, the closure system needs to be functional and the flap needs to be covering something useful, like a pocket. Function and a minimalist aesthetic matter most to me. I like our bags to be versatile so, my color palette tends to be neutral. I love grays and browns and that’s mostly what you’ll see in the Moop collection. Aside from the occasional special edition, which might have a punchy color. Currently, our Backpack no.2 in Magenta is filling the role.

What are you going to be excited about in the next few months?
Our studio relocation has been one of the biggest transitions in the last few weeks so, we’re taking some time to get settled before we release anything new…though, I did recently find an amazing special waxed canvas that I’m working up some designs for!

Thanks, Wendy, for your inspiring responses! I can’t wait to see what you do with that special waxed canvas! To learn more about Moop, visit the website, follow them on Twitter or Instagram, like ‘em on Facebook, or see what they’re up to on Pinterest

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Oct 13

cake 1 It was a special weekend at Chez Golightly. My oldest sister turns, well, a milestone age next month, and since fall break gave many of us a long weekend, we gathered from different parts of the country to celebrate.

We enjoyed dinner at Bricco Trattoria on Saturday evening, all of the siblings, my parents, and a few of my sister’s long-time friends (note, I avoid saying oldest) sharing stories and a lot of laughs.

I woke up early on Sunday to bake my sister’s birthday cake. I used this lemon ricotta cake recipe, leaving off the lemon curd.

cake 2Only one small piece remained. I think it was a hit!

What did you do this weekend?


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Ethical Elegance: Moop Bag Review

Oct 09

letter bag You’ve probably heard me mention one of my favorite bag makers plenty of times: Moop! Today I’ll tell you about a few of their bags and wax poetic about the one that serves as my Mary Poppins bag.

The Tiny Clutch 2 is a great bag for tossing into a larger bag when you want to keep necessities–phone, debit card, cash, lip stick–all together. I use it all the time when I don’t want to carry a handbag and a tote.

I reviewed my Paperback bag here (scroll down to the end of the post). Now that I have an iPad mini, the bag holds even more. I especially like this bag when I’m biking to do my errands. It also makes a terrific clutch when I snap off the strap.

I’ve long been on the search for the perfect handbag, but I already own the perfect work bag: the Moop Letter Bag in waxed canvas. Like Mary Poppins’s carpet bag, this bag can hold it all (almost)! Mine is gray waxed canvas, with one of my favorite details–a gorgeous turquoise lining, which makes it easy to find all the things I stuff into the bag. Most days, the slip pocket holds my bullet journal and pencil case, the front pockets hold my reading glasses and sketchbook, and the inside pocket holds text books, work folders, student papers, articles I need to read–you get the idea. And there is a key fob, the handiest detail on any larger bag! The inside pockets are great for my iPad cord, Altoids, and other bibs and bobs I need throughout the day. While I love the look of leather bags, this one is so much lighter than my leather briefcase. I can carry it, stuffed to the brim, with little pain. I also get a lot of use of the shoulder straps–I don’t often carry bags messenger style, but I do like having the options the adjustable strap offers.

It’s more than a terrific bag for work. You can see the Letter Bag at the Louvre when it served as my second carry-on and day bag during a weekend in Paris. Moop makes many styles that are refined enough to wear with more sophisticated looks.

Of course, the fact that the bags are manufactured in the USA using ethically produced materials goes a long way in my love of them.

Stay tuned for an interview next week with Wendy, the genius behind Moop.

In the meantime, spill in the comments–which is your fave Moop bag?

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Phoenix Draft: Written

Oct 06

Novel It started in 2004 with a writing prompt to craft a 25-line story featuring a childhood place. I wrote “Queen of the Tobacco Field,” set in the shade tobacco farms of the Connecticut Tobacco Valley, my birthplace.

Are you surprised? Most folks not from here are. They think the south owns all the rights to tobacco. But I grew up watching local and migrant workers tend the plants as they pushed against the ghostly nets that create the just-right environment for some of the world’s best cigar binders and wrappers, and those fields, that netting, the red barns…those are my markers of childhood and home.

I digress. My first MFA workshop saw that 25-line story morph into a proper short story, and as I drafted my dissertation, it grew into a novella. I defended my dissertation in 2008, yet I still couldn’t let go of the story.

Every May, when my teaching gig was over for the summer, I promised myself I’d write a new draft, the one I could shop around. I have at least five half-finished drafts in which I changed huge parts of the story, but they were never right. As September arrived, I would give up.

This year, I didn’t make myself a promise. I gave myself permission.

Permission to try it one more time. Permission not to give up. Permission to do what I had to in order to write a brand new draft with a brand new focus. I made the commitment matter by hiring a terrific writing coach.

Around the same time, I saw a tweet from Rachael in which she used the term Phoenix Draft. And I knew she’d written it just for me (okay, she didn’t, but it flew past my eyes at the moment I needed to see it). See, almost every time I begin a new draft, I open a brand new document and start from scratch. I rarely (except with short stories) get to the point where I’m satisfied enough with the story to revise the existing draft.

This one, I told myself, would be the Phoenix Draft. The last one to rise, new and different, reborn, if you will, from the ashes of ten years of drafts.

Last week, I finished the draft. 81,800 words of a brand new story, the story I was meant to tell, the story that precedes all of the events I crammed into the 25-line “Queen of the Tobacco Field.” I kept the name I gave it in novella form, The Hardest Bent, because it is a true and right name for this novel.

I printed it out, mapped out a revision plan based closely on Rachael’s, and in my last coaching session with dear Charlotte on Friday, firmed up how I’ll spend my next three months of writing time.

I am over the moon about revising this Phoenix Draft. I am terrified about finding a home for the novel, but it deserves that from me. So when this revision is over, when my trusted readers give me one last round of feedback, I plan to once more give myself permission. Permission to write a terrific query letter. Permission to find the agent and editor who will love my story the way I do. Permission to let The Hardest Bent do more than press against the netting…to burst out from under it, into the world.

How about you? What have you given yourself permission to do lately?

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Stitching with the Ladies of Gee’s Bend

Sep 29

Earlier this year, I got a hankering to sew a quilt top by hand. I’ve always pieced by machine and quilted by hand in the past, and I wanted to slow down the top-making process.

Quilt block

This urge coincided with special guest artists at  Fiber College : three of the Gee’s Bend Quilters.

I spent a relaxing Saturday afternoon at the world’s prettiest camp ground drawing out fabric from my stash, ripping off strips, stitching them together by hand as I listened to the murmur of sewing machines punctuated by laughter and conversation (Gale posted photos and a short video from the day). “Doing it your way” was the theme–pick the fabrics that speak to you, let them cozy up next to fabrics that you might not normally put together, but that tell you they want to be together.

Anyone expecting to be instructed exactly how to create a Gee’s Bend quilt was probably let down by the afternoon. But anyone who really listened, who bent her will to the fabric, realized she had, in fact, learned how to create a Gee’s Bend quilt: stitch what makes you happy.

Every now and again, I add another strip to the block. I’m not sure if I’m going to make one large lap-quilt-sized block or make several more about this size and stitch them together. I’m using stash fabric, old cotton shirts, sheets, and the cutest contribution from Amy Lou–the denim-patch fabric includes apples and the saying “I like you” on it.Sajou box


When I open my Sajou sewing box, a beautiful gift from Sara years ago, I see treasures like Cal’s business card, a reminder of watching her sew on a vintage Singer; a thimble from Clementine placed sweetly on my cottage cot pillow; the embroidery knife I purchased in Paris with Sara after we spent hours in the gorgeous Sajou shop pawing over all the pretty things. I love that hand stitching drenches me in sweet thoughts of friends, of places like Maine, Paris, my porch. I love that each fabric reminds me of someone or some moment in time. That’s how stitching this quilt makes me happy.

I’d love to read about a project that’s making you happy–what are you doing your way?

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Sophie’s House of Cards: a Review and Contest

Sep 26

This summer Sharon Oard Warner emailed to see if I’d be interested in reading an advance copy of her new novel Sophie’s House of Cards. I’ve known Sharon since 2003 when I took a workshop with her at Iowa’s summer writing festival. She’s responsible for my decision to go to graduate school and for my eventual move to New Mexico. I’m fortunate to have studied with her, and I remain grateful for her guidance as my dissertation chair.

So, yeah, when Sharon, a wonderful teacher and even more terrific human, asks anything of me, I say “yes”!

It doesn’t hurt that I love her writing. She doesn’t shy away from hard ideas, and she is a writer to study if you’re interested in a model for crafting flawed characters that resonate with the reader.

I just posted my review on GoodReads, which I’ll add here in case you don’t feel like clicking:

In her second novel Sophie’s House of Cards, Sharon Oard Warner tackles tough questions, just as she has in her debut novel Deep in the Heart: How do we allow loved ones to live their lives as they feel is right, even when we disagree? How do we handle betrayal? What does it mean to be a family?

As in her first novel, the characters in Sophie’s House of Cards are individuals, depicted with authority, leaving the reader confident that they had rich, complex lives before the story opens, and will continue to do so long after the book ends. Even minor characters in the novel are three-dimensional and might warrant having their stories told, too.

The story follows three women as they grow to understand how their lives entwine through love and betrayal. Warner renders not only the women with care and precision, but also the men who complete and complicate ideas about love, betrayal, and family.

Set in New Mexico, the novel brims with details that let the reader almost smell pinon wood in the kiva and Hatch chile peppers being roasted. The narrative structure—a tarot card reading—adds layers of meaning to the story, reminding the reader that even if fortune and destiny are at play in our lives, we can’t help but to be flawed. Warner allows us to see the beauty in our flaws, which may be the greatest gift of the novel.

Want to read the novel? Of course you do! Lucky for you, there’s a give away contest going on right now. Hop on over for your chance to win a copy of Sophie’s House of Cards and a set of tarot cards! Don’t want to put yourself in the hands of Fortune? Order your copy here.

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